China introduces ID check for mobile phone owners

I’ve recently blogged about Singapore, Vietnam and China and their attempts to limit the usage of the internet in young people, and this week China has stepped its efforts up a notch by introducing regulations which require the submission of ID in order to purchase an internet account or mobile phone SIM.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The measure went into effect Wednesday, with customer-service representatives at mobile operators China Mobile Ltd., China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. and China Telecom Corp. telling customers that new users would need to provide proof of their identity when signing up for new phone numbers. State media said all existing users will eventually need to register as well.

Being China, the move throws up considerable personal freedom and privacy issues as the article discusses:

The government says that anonymity enables rampant spam and telecom fraud, which are indeed pervasive problems in China. But the anonymity has also enabled people to share politically sensitive information—from text-message jokes poking fun at top leaders to photographs of public demonstrations—freedoms not available Chinese enjoyed before cellphones the advent of cellphones’ arrival.

China now has more than 814 million mobile subscriber accounts—far more than any other country—and adds an average of more than five million a month. For many Chinese users, cellphones are a key means of expression, communication and getting news.

Given China’s record of hacking into the emails accounts of anti-government movements the cause for concern is a very valid one. With Twitter and Facebook amongst the many sites banned in the country, mobile users (12 percent of whom are reported to access the web via their handset) face the potential of further clamp downs and a significant loss in privacy.

Only time will tell how the move affects the country beyond the initial promise of reduced fraud.